G-20 ministers set AI guidelines amid concerns of pitfalls

10, Jun. 2019

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TSUKUBA, Kyodo - Ministers from the Group of 20 major economies agreed Saturday on a set of guidelines for the responsible use of artificial intelligence, a technology that carries great potential to benefit humankind but also poses risks if left unchecked.

People using or developing AI “should proactively engage in responsible stewardship of trustworthy AI in pursuit of beneficial outcomes for people and the planet,” the ministers said in a joint statement after a day of discussions on trade and digital economy in Tsukuba, eastern Japan.

The two-day meeting is being held amid a bitter tariff war between the United States and China that has raised doubts about how much the member economies can come together ahead of a G-20 summit in Osaka later this month.

In the guidelines, laid out in a legally nonbinding annex to the joint statement dubbed the G-20 AI Principles, the ministers urged stakeholders to “respect the rule of law, human rights and democratic values throughout the AI system lifecycle,” calling for consideration of values including privacy, equality, diversity and internationally recognized labor rights.

Those involved should commit to transparency and responsible disclosure regarding AI, the ministers said, adding that “AI systems should be robust, secure and safe throughout their entire lifecycle so that...they function appropriately and do not pose unreasonable safety risk.”

While the rapid spread of AI has vastly improved productivity in industries ranging from services to manufacturing, it has also given rise to concerns of putting people out of work or -- in a scenario straight out of a science fiction movie -- rogue AI that turn on its human creators.

In the guidelines, which are based on principles laid out last month by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, governments are urged to promote investment in research and development of AI, and support a smooth transition into practical use.

Governments should also prepare workers who may be replaced by AI through training programs and access to new job opportunities, the guidelines said.

The ministers also discussed ways to ensure free data flows while protecting user privacy, an issue Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said he wants to raise at the Osaka summit on June 28 and 29, as well as the spread of e-commerce platforms such as Amazon.com.

Japanese trade and industry minister Hiroshige Seko, who is co-chairing the meeting in Tsukuba, told a press conference that they talked about “how data is the key to innovation, and how the free flow of data depends on a relationship of trust concerning privacy and cybersecurity and between consumers and businesses.”

The meeting will continue through Sunday, covering trade issues including reform of the World Trade Organization, a particularly contentious issue that may prevent the ministers from agreeing on a second joint statement.

“There are various trade issues at the moment, so I hope we'll have a fruitful discussion tomorrow that will feed into the Osaka summit,” Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono said at the press conference.

The G-20 comprises Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United States and the European Union. (Kyodo)